Sunday, January 27, 2008

Scene Sunday: Sense & Sensibility

It's the start of a new, and hopefully longlasting, series here at Victim of the Time. This time, in keeping with my newly analytical mindset for this blog (I've never been too great at the celebrity news or the humour stuff, as you may have noticed), I'll be taking a look at a single scene from a movie each Sunday- a newly released movie (on DVD, natch), one I've just discovered from the archives or just a favourite that's been on my mind. Let me know whether the post is interesting or if you think the whole idea is total tosh- I just want to know if people are reading!

It's of that last variety that today's introductory scene comes from. The BBC recently screened a new, Andrew Davies-penned version of Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility, but, good as it was, I couldn't help remembering Ang Lee and Emma Thompson's 1995 feature film version of the same story. So I dug it out.

Now, you all know- or you should- how big a fan of Kate Winslet I am. While watching the new version of Sense and Sensibility, it came to the scene where Marianne's illusions concerning Willoughby are shattered- and immediately the same scene from the '95 version shot into my head. I may be alone here, but there is one line from the '95 version of the scene that sticks in my head. I know not whether it comes from the book or not, not having read it, but Davies wisely omits it from the new version. It is Winslet's delivery of the line- which I'll reveal as we go through the scene- that made it stick in my head, repeating itself like a broken record until I actually sat down to watch it. But enough chatter. Let's take a closer look.

Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslet) has just recieved a letter from the object of her wilful heart, John Willoughby (Greg Wise). Excited, she exits the dinner-table to read it in her room. But her sister Elinor (Emma Thompson) knows something is wrong, and, after a rather cutting aside to her own love rival, Lucy Steele (Imogen Stubbs), goes after her sister.

Cut to Marianne's white, frozen face staring blankly at the letter, clasped loosely in her hand. On Elinor's arrival in the room, she begins to read.

Winslet has Marianne read Willoughby's cold, dismissive words in an empty, hollow voice, never letting it break as if in heartbreak- Marianne does not even seem to be in shock, more a detached emotionless state, her blood not having reached her heart yet, instead in some kind of empty, listless chamber. Behind her, Thompson's Elinor looks, listens and her breath catches, tensing then shoulder slumping in realization.

Finished, Marianne smoothly stands and walks to her bed, and Elinor follows, along with cinematographer Michael Coulter in a short, fluid tracking shot. The scene, for all its focus on Marianne, clearly makes it stand with the more pragmatic Elinor.

The movement seems to have jolted Marianne's heart, for Winslet's face moves from cool passivitity to a slow, heaving glumness, eyes staring downwards in some kind of mixture of shock and shame. Even now, before her brain seems to know, her body realizes her own mistake, her head bowed. Elinor, scrambling for the silver lining, stands behind her sister and grasps the bed-post, closing in on her sister as best she can.
"Oh, Marianne. Dearest... it is best to know what his intentions are at once. Think of what you would have felt if your engagement had carried on for months and months before he chose to put an end to it."

Quick as a flash, Marianne replies with an almost scornful,
"We are not engaged."

"But you... you wrote to him, I thought then he must have left you with some kind of understanding..."

"No. He is not so unworthy as you think him."
Marianne may have been swept coldly aside by Willoughby but Winslet makes it clear with the low-key anger she uses to undercut Marianne's reply: she loves him, and he did no wrong.

"'Not so unworthy...'", Elinor echoes in disbelief... the camera once again moves with her as she swiftly skirts the corner of the bed and sits across from her sister, forcefully grabbing her arms.

"Did he tell you that he loved you?"
Thompson's eyes go wide, forcing Marianne to look at Elinor and tell her the truth.

"Yes..." Marianne replys quickly... then Winslet looks down, and there follows a quivering, shamed, "No. Never absolutely."

The realization shows on Thompson's face; and here comes the line, delivered by Winslet with such quavering shock and resigned realization that has made it stick in my head all these years:

"It was everyday implied but never declared."

"Sometimes I thought it had been, but it never was. He has broken no vow."

But Elinor will not let her sister take all the shame. Clutching ferociously at Willoughby's letter, Thompson waves it desperately, insisting that "He has! He has broken faith with all of us, he made us all believe he loved you."

And Marianne has had enough of defending Willoughby, and even trying to cope. "He did... he did!" she cries, her voice cracking open like a muscle shell, her reddening face unable to hold itself up any more... and Winslet has her face crumple, screwing it up with fierce tears, and her hand moving up in a vain attempt to hold herself together. "He loved me as I loved him!" Marianne wails as her final words, body falling onto the bed in a wrack of sobs.

Winslet spends the remainder of the scene lying on the bed, cries quiet but continually broken, as Mrs Jennings (Elizabeth Spriggs) enters and offers her kind but gossiping words to Elinor. Winslet, indeed, spends her time flat against the bed, her lips formed into some kind of perverse clownish smile, though of course it is no smile at all.

Mrs Jennings leaves the scene with a final note of humour, perhaps telegraphing further how that this, finally, is Marianne's 'punishment' for being so wilful, open and impulsive. "Does she care for olives?" Mrs Jennings asks caringly, prompting an amusingly comic reaction of bemused bewilderment from Thompson; eventually Elinor replies "I cannot tell you", and we leave Marianne to her tears as the new scene has her problems airily criticized by her acidic sister-in-law and her brother.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Heath Ledger (1979- 2008)

It seems a bit useless to say anything about Heath Ledger's death (I still cannot believe that I had to type that) because it's all been said by better people than I but it also feels as though it would be heartless to move on without another word so I will add my own brief piece.

I first heard the news while I was hanging around in one of the comments sections over at The Film Experience, and I dismissed it with a bemused frown, thinking it was some kind of joke that I just didn't get (a common experience for me). Then it came up on Yahoo! and I realized that there must be more to the idea than I'd thought. Learning that it was actually true, I spent at least half an hour just sitting there, trying to get my head around it. It felt like someone had punched me in the gut. I was never an enormous fan of Heath, but I'd liked him ever since seeing 10 Things I Hate About You (I think when it debuted on tv, which would have been about 2002- it was certainly before I got into film as I am now), which remains one of my favourite movies to this day. And, as many have already said, his Brokeback Mountain performance is certainly one of this decade's best.

I feel his death on an odd level. Of course I never knew him, and my feelings are ridiculously miniscule compared to those that his family and friends must be feeling right now. (Watching his father deliver that statement... I can't imagine how he got through it. So brave to face up to it himself.) But it still, even a day later, just doesn't fit in my head- I think about it, and think about how I always simply assumed that we'd see so much more from him, that Brokeback was simply the tip of the iceberg, that- maybe- he'd become one of his generation's greatest. And now he's not there and he won't be giving any more performances and I just can't get my head around it. Every time I read the words it's like recieving a fresh little jolt of realization. It will take time to truly sink in, for me to truly believe it. It helps, greatly, to know that others are feeling the same, that I'm not strange or foolish to feel so badly over it, so thank yous go out to everyone who has already expressed their own sentiments.

On another level, this is also the first "celebrity death" of this kind that I've experienced. I may have been alive when River Phoenix and Kurt Cobain died but I was about five or six and I don't think I ever even heard about them for many years afterwards. I truly believe- and the media coverage, internet and real-life reaction only confirm this- that Heath will be the James Dean, the Marilyn Monroe, the River Phoenix of this time. He will be remembered, perhaps not for the reasons we would have liked, but because he was, in his own way, an important and talented figure who gave something special to the world before he was cruelly taken from it.

Heath Ledger (1979- 2008)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

R.I.P. Heath Ledger

I literally do not understand. It makes no sense.

So... how did I do?

Best Picture: 4/5.
Best Director: 3/5.
Best Actor: 4/5.
Best Actress: 4/5.
Best Supporting Actor: 4/5.
Best Supporting Actress: 4/5.
Best Original Screenplay: 5/5.
Best Adapted Screenplay: 5/5.
Best Foreign Film: 2/5.
Best Documentary: 2/5.
Best Animated Film: 2/3.
Best Cinematography: 4/5.
Best Art Direction: 3/5.
Best Costume Design: 4/5.
Best Editing: 2/5.
Best Make-Up: 1/3.
Best Original Score: 3/5.
Best Original Song: 2/5.
Best Sound: 3/5.
Best Sound Effects: 3/5.
Best Visual Effects: 2/3.

What makes me happy:
- Laura freakin' Linney! To my utter delight I will be able to actually see The Savages this weekend (I take back my complaints about the cinema) and I just adore Laura in every way that it's possible to adore someone.
- Casey freakin' Affleck! My fears were unfounded. So it's a lead role, who cares, at least he was nominated!
- I may have only gotten a clean sweep in the screenplay categories, but the fact that I got BOTH of them somehow makes it about... four times as awesome. Am I wrong? And fantastic for Sarah Polley, who I only just switched out for Penn before I posted my predictions. So glad I did.
- Double-dip for Deakins! But will he cancel himself out when it comes to the win?

What makes me sad:
- Cate Blanchett in place of Angelina Jolie. Is this what costs me for my love of Laura Linney? Why must you punish me, Oscar? WHY?
- Ruby Dee. I know everyone's throwing up the 'career acknowledgment' thing, but am I the only one who's never heard of her? Is this an American thing, or am I just stupid? And she got in at the slight of so many much more deserving people, too. Ugh.
- No Stuart Craig in Art Direction for Harry Potter. Possibly remains the best work in this category I've seen all year, and it makes me angry that they shafted it in favour of something like the completely average work in The Golden Compass. (Notice I'm not complaining about American Gangster here- but I acknowledge that in this category it was actually quite good.)
- Across the Universe. Just... no.
- The Kite Runner for score. I know I predicted it, but, apart from the okay (if obvious) piece for the opening titles it was cliched, twinkly garbage.
- Norbit. No, I'm not seeing it, I have to draw the line somewhere.

What means I have to make an extra effort:
- Tommy Lee Jones. In the Valley of Elah is released this week and I was thinking of skipping it, but now I guess not. He's supposed to be really good, though, so I'm not too apathetic.
- Surf's Up. Did anyone see that coming?

Overall: 66/99: 65% (last year: 71%)
Big Eight: 33/40: 82.5% (last year: 85%)

Considering how unpredictable a year it was this year, I don't think that's too bad.

Friday, January 18, 2008

You take that side and I'll take this...

I don't think I hated Across the Universe, but at points I certainly came very close. The easily identifiable problem about this film is that it has no substance. Oh, you can say it's about revolution, as I did when one of my friends (who liked it) asked us "but what was it about?", but the film is no more about revolution than it is about lesbianism or psychedelica, although it certainly spends a lot more time deliberating morosely over the former than the latter two. It checks about every box it can think of but is interested in nothing more than doing so. Instead, director Julie Taymor (of the bloody Shakespeare adaptation Titus, which I haven't seen, and the shruggable Frida, which I have) throws about every bizarre image and technique that pops into her head at you and hopes some of them stick. Very few do.

The problem is not that people suddenly start singing Beatles songs (although they generally do it rather badly), or even that Taymor has the extras around the singers start doing dances/movements, its that the two don't fit together. Why, I asked, as the audience laughed at the preposterousness of it, does T.V. Carpio, a Vietnamese lesbian cheerleader named Prudence (oh yes), sing 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' with the footballer players doing some kind of slapstick tumbling around her? Well, I think the answer to that is pretty obvious. Taymor thought it would look good. It doesn't. It looks ridiculous. (Incidentally, Carpio is probably the best thing here: not only can she actually sing, but she makes a cliched non-character more than the points the film wants to identify her with, and leaves you longing to see more of her. A wish not granted.)

When the film's imagery trips into the clearly bizarre, such as naked underwater kissing between the two leads (a flat Evan Rachel Wood and an acceptable Jim Sturgess, who sounds more like Oasis than the Beatles) or a canvas lined with bleeding strawberries, it's not so hard to cope with. But then something like an apartment literally becoming the sky (for no reason that I could comprehend) and you have to laugh or you'll cry at the appauling claptrap you're being fed. It pretends to think, to have opinions about things, but it simply presents them to you instead.

"Hey, look, Evan Rachel Wood is joining the revolution, and that's cool, right, because she's a hot young chick but she's actually got something going on upstairs, you know? But, natch, the Liverpudlian she loves will show her what's right by being an unsupportive selfish bastard, and anyway, those revolutionaries are as bad as the government anyway, right, so let's sing a song and stare at Evan's pretty face! 'Cause who cares about politics, right? Look at this cool film stock reversal technique instead!"

You know what? I did kind of hate it after all. D+

No Country for Old Men (Coen & Coen, 2007)

This is, hopefully, the first of quite a few posts you'll be seeing from me today (and maybe over the weekend): I still am planning on reviewing The Golden Door, which really deserves the attention it hasn't been getting, as well as putting up some thoughts on I'm Not There. (I'm sure you're dying to know what I thought) and possibly Across the Universe. I also want to get started on that which everyone else is doing/will be doing: those Oscar predictions. So stay tuned.


There was a strange kind of tension as I sat in the advance screening of No Country for Old Men, no one speaking and only a few rustles of popcorn and a quiet cough interrupting the hush. I got the strong sense that everyone who was in that room, who had all bothered to come in at 12:15 on a Saturday the week before the film is actually released, were all aware that this was supposedly something special, and were all lovers of great cinema. It's a rare thing for me to be in such good company while watching a film, and it did indeed make a nice change. (Except for the rather, ah, portly gentleman who was breathing so loudly near the end I'm sure he'd fallen asleep, the dolt.)

But you've already heard everything about No Country, haven't you, whether you've seen it- in which case you don't need me to tell you how fantastic it is- or not- in which case you really shouldn't want to know, for the surprise is part of the experience. I hadn't really been thinking about the fact that I was going to see the film until the night before, when it suddenly flashed through my brain that I was finally going to see the film everybody had raved about. The thing is, I've never been a big Coens fan. Their previous lauded work like Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, etc. usually seemed too cold, too technically proficient that they lost any kind of connective centre. (Exceptions: I loved Blood Simple, and I really must rewatch Fargo before passing any kind of judgment on it.) So when I heard that No Country was a 'return-to-form' for the brothers Coen I took it with a pinch of salt.

So kudos to them that I really did love it. The whole film itself felt like the images within where psycho killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) shoots someone and then watches the blood seep slowly across the floor. So Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) finds a drug deal gone wrong and a case full of money and the whole tangled mess spreads out from there.

But No Country isn't a straightforward picture, and its the Coens clever, unpredictable touches that make this film special. Like framing the picture with seemingly unimportant character Sheriff Tom Ed Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), or killing one of the central characters offscreen with an almost glacial impassivity. Or putting the two least connected central characters into a horrifically tense and superbly acted little showdown. No Country is bitingly and sparingly written, but the Coens, not forgetting their lauded technical credentials, also use the crew around them to great effect: Roger Deakins' cinematography is every bit as unnerving as the story, while the use of sound is simply mind-blowing, especially in the opening sequences on the deserted sand plains.

No Country works both as a simple, barebones and nicely tense thriller, but also, as many have noted before, as some kind of subdued social commentary. The controversial (for being so unexpected- I have to say, I wasn't really paying attention, which made me feel rather embarassed when it then finished) ending bespeaks of the entire film's downbeat, pessimistic attitude, but while the body of the film itself puts across the idea that the world is going downhill, the final scene intimates that it's already been there for decades, at least. No, No Country isn't exactly a cheering film, but it is one of the few films this year that feels truly alive- sure, alive with bleakness, death and negativity, but those are human characteristics as valid as happiness and hopefulness, and the Coens have made a gripping thriller that isn't afraid to brace the world's darkest elements. A-B+

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Bunch of Randomness

- Another one bites the dust. My forecasting viewing of Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is now on indefinite hold simply because there is nowhere near me showing it. Now, this isn't quite as bad as the Bug situation since there are actually a couple of cinemas outside of London showing it... but still. They show rubbish like Alien vs. Predator: SludgeFest³ or whatever it's called this time (on that note: what the fuck is Reiko Aylesworth doing in that? She deserves so so much better. Take note, casting agents! I advocate Reiko for future stardom!) but not something with at least a reasonable amount of pedigree like Devil? Of course, the sad fact is that Alien minus Sigourney=No Interest will probably get to number one, but that's just because people, in general, are idiots. But how can they see things if you DON'T SHOW THEM, distributor people? This vitriol is particularly directed towards my favoured cinema in England's second city, which used to be so good at showing more obscure titles but has of late become almost as shit as the rest of the cinemas.

- I am fully convinced that Homecoming by Kanye West and Chris Martin is the greatest song ever, despite the fact that I don't really like either artist that much. However, it's really the awesome piano in the song that I adore. I like to tap it out on my leg.

- In other music news, may I celebrate that fact that despite not being released for far longer than any sense decrees, Rihanna's superb single Don't Stop the Music is ALREADY at #6 in the UK charts despite not being released properly (ie. as a CD) for two more weeks. Could she get to number one? I beg of you, UK public. Send her to number one. Again.

- I'm not going to write a review for The Kite Runner because it was so awful and banal that it doesn't deserve one, but suffice to say the more I reflect on it, the more I detest it's backward simplicity, its cliched arcs, its flat visual sense, and the fact that it treats such a hot-button subject with such blunt tactlessness that it is, actually, quite offensive. About the only part of it I could say I had any halfway good feeling towards was the kite flying competition, which was not only irrelevant but also fake! Fake, I tells ya!

- I will, however, hopefully be reviewing both The Golden Door and No Country for Old Men, the latter of which already has an entry in processing. But the one of more interest, simply because far fewer people have seen it, is Emanuele Crialese's The Golden Door, which surprised me with its warmth, offbeat sensibilities and tactful, insightful handling of immigration at the turn of the last century- and it also showcased one of 2007's best performances, you may be interested to hear. It's not hard to guess who, but you can if you so wish.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Looking Ahead: My Ten Most Anticipated of 2008

My most anticipated from last year didn't exactly turn out so well, but that's the fascinating thing about anticipation: things you have little interest in can turn out to be superb, and things you just can't wait for more often than not let you down. And then of course there's all the things that just aren't on the radar yet. Here's to looking back at the beginning of 2009 (oh, my) and seeing just how odd my anticipations were.

This list does not contain 2007 US releases that UK is still to get; for reasons I now don't understand but am bidden by anal-retentive personality to abide by, my movie year is governed by America and not Britain, which means you can look forward to this year's Gold Stars from mid-March (my month away from uni). So, while I may be whizzing round the room in excitement over Juno and There Will Be Blood, they will not be found within.

Runner-ups: The Changeling, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight,Genova, How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, Stop Loss, Sunshine Clearing, The Young Victoria

10. The Brothers Bloom
dir. Rian Johnson
cast: Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane, Nora Zehetner
I was the rare non-fan of Johnson's debut Brick, but this con movie just looks cool- and the cast (barring Brody, my nemesis) looks fantastic. I get a sort of screwball vibe from it, and there just isn't enough screwball these days. Johnson's done noir- can he tackle another classic Hollywood genre?

9. Australia
Baz Luhrmann
cast: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Essie Davis, Bryan Brown, David Gulpilil
Baz Luhrmann's long-awaited Australian epic (I'm assuming) sounds, looks and feels like a potential masterpiece, some kind of defining movie for both it's country and it's time... if it's done right. It seems to be an epic, a war movie and a western all rolled into one. And how interesting is it to cast Nicole Kidman in an Australian movie called Australia and have her play an Englishwoman?

8. The International
Tom Tykwer
cast: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thomsen
A simple equation: Tom Tykwer + Brothers' Ulrich Thomsen x Naomi Watts = me interested in movie.

7. The Reader
dir. Stephen Daldry
cast: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, Bruno Ganz, Karoline Herfurth, Linda Bassett
The switcheroo of Nicole Kidman for Kate Winslet made this jump up onto the top ten, and if that doesn't tell you how frequently I kneel at the altar of the Winslet nothing will. I still have reservations about the story and the accent, but I watched A Christmas Carol for Kate so I'm bloody well going to watch this. (Plus, Perfume's silent nose-filler Herfurth is in it!)

6. Blindness
dir. Fernando Meirelles
cast: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Gael Garcia Bernal, Danny Glover, Sandra Oh
A fascinating plot based on a novel by a Nobel Prize winner, three superb leads and a director who's already proved he knows his way around a camera. This is already being touted as an Oscar contender, and, though it sounds a little off their track, hopefully it will be good enough to break down barriers and become a real hit.

5. The Box
dir. Richard Kelly
cast: James Marsden, Cameron Diaz, Frank Langella
Unusually for Kelly, the basic plot sounds alarmingly simple, but the imdb's idea of "true humanity" may hint at a much more complex and difficult film to deal with. This has the potential to be a complete disaster, both artistically and commercially, or some kind of minor masterpiece (I can't see it going mainstream, somehow). Plus, James Marsden!

4. Body of Lies
Ridley Scott
cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Carice Van Houten, Michael Gaston
Reasons why I want to see this movie: Carice Van Houten. Carice Van Houten. Carice Van Houten. Carice Van Houten. Carice Van Houten. William Monahan. Carice Van Houten. Carice Van Houten. Leonardo DiCaprio. Carice Van Houten. Carice Van Houten.

Does anyone have a problem with that?

3. Synecdoche, New York
dir. Charlie Kaufman
cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Emily Watson, Samantha Morton, Dianne Wiest, Hope Davis
The name Charlie Kaufman should really be enough by itself. But my god, look at all those ladies. I'd see a film by Paul W.S. Anderson if it starred all of them. Delayed from last year, this will assuredly be as original and unpredictable as Kaufman's previous work, and with him behind the camera as well, it should all add up to a truly unique- and hopefully marvellous- experience.

dir. Andrew Stanton
cast: WALL-E, a robot
Pixar may have disappointed me with their last couple of movies, but this looks truly wonderful. Still filming, reports seem to suggest that there's going to be very little dialogue- risky, surely, for what is essentially, at least in the marketer's eyes, a kid's movie? Now that Disney have seen sense and are (apparently) letting Pixar alone to do their own thing, this will hopefully be a return to the studio's glory days of Toy Story. It's certainly the big event of the summer as far as I'm concerned.

1. Revolutionary Road
Sam Mendes
cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, Michael Shannon
Not only are Jack and Rose reunited, but they brought Molly Brown with them! There are so many questions. Will the chemistry still be there? How will the ten years + have changed the way Kate and Leo interact? How will Kate work with her husband as director? Is the book actually any good? Can this possibly live up to the hype? I have to wait exactly a year from today to find out.

Everyone Wins!

So, it's ten to two in the morning and I've just come through a problematic viewing (DVD + laptop = disaster) of Fatal Attraction (um... oh, my) and I come online to this rather wonderful news:

Winslet expected to replace Kidman in "The Reader"

Now, I know that's Yahoo! but they did cite her publicist so I'm trusting it. And this makes me very excited. For, much as I love Nicole, seeing my dearest Kate in a film I'm really looking forward to (it's in my still-drafting Most Anticipated list) just makes me alight with happiness. Last year was Winslet-free after her rather awful glut of films at the end of 2006 (when the best of your films is The Holiday, you know you're in trouble), so I'm really ready to see her back on-form with both The Reader and the highly anticipated Revolutionary Road. I almost feel like popping in Sense and Sensibility in joyous celebration. But I won't.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Supporting Actress Blog-a-Thon: Kristen Thomson in Away From Her

This post is for StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Blog-a-Thon, Class of 2007. I strongly suggest you head over there for other posts from across the blogosphere.

Most of the press surrounding Away From Her has been (deservedly, I hasten to add) focused on Julie Christie, or Sarah Polley, or perhaps if you’re lucky Gordon Pinsent and even Olympia Dukakis. But while all the aforementioned are richly deserving of the praise lavished upon them, there’s an unsung hero within, and after much deliberation, it’s she whom I’ve chosen to write about for this blog-a-thon.

Kristen Thomson plays Kristy, a nurse at the care home where Christie’s Fiona is sent when her Alzheimer’s becomes too advanced for her husband Grant (Pinsent) to deal with. Just as Polley flips general movie convention on its head by making the rare film about the older generation, Thomson is like the wise mentor character from the opposite generation. Sharing a cigarette with Grant outside the hospital, Thomson gets her biggest moment in the film, peeling off a few layers as Kristy talks a little about her daughter, and how she’s just trying to get along.

Thomson is both the warmth and the wit of the movie, providing the lighter moments of the film but always underlining them with the weariness Kristy feels, the simultaneous feeling of fatigue and usefulness she sees in her work. She is an unburdening shoulder to lean on, a real, tangible person for Grant to hook onto as his wife drifts further away from him. She represents the humanity beneath the polished, polite, sterile surface the home’s manager presents to Grant when he first visits, and Thomson is clever enough to put the script’s descriptions of her into her movement too- her walk is never weary and heavy, but neither does it have the false spring of the manager’s glide.

Kristy is simply an average woman working in a difficult, unappreciated job which she gives as much as she can to, trying to live for herself and her daughter. To Grant, Kristy is a source of peace and normality in a system he doesn’t like or understand; to the movie, she acts like a backbone, an essential but unexceptional supporting construction, and Thomson never makes her bigger than she should be- she is, ultimately, the definition of ‘supporting’, and that’s why I picked her for this brief moment in the spotlight.

Chauvinism or misogyny? It's all the same to me...

A new year and new resolutions. The past six months have been so lax on this blog that I've probably driven away any tiny readership I had, but now I'm ready and motivated to actually write things. Later, my contribution to StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress blog-a-thon, but now, some nastily negative words on a couple of films that deserve them.

I never thought I would see the day when I could say I hated a Woody Allen film, but I suppose that everyone’s illusions must be shattered at some point. Anything Else is not, unfortunately, as dismissible as both its title and its plot suggest, but a self-indulgent, useless, hateful piece of work- made all the more deplorable for the fact that it was made by a filmmaker once so insightful and witty. I’ll put aside my accusations of misogyny for a moment and focus on the other thing that’s most horrifying about Anything Else: Woody Allen now thinks so much of himself that he’s not in this film once, he’s in it twice. Oh, yes. Not content with his usual youthful stand-in, this time played flatly by Jason “American Pie” Biggs, Allen also gives himself a part to play, a delusional, wizened comedy writer named Dobel. Allen angles his and Biggs’ characters into a weird kind of friendship, in which Allen gives Biggs lots of quotations, leading, naturally, to Biggs practically begging Allen for advice when his agent is troublesome and his romance goes sour. At one point near the end of the film, Allen actually gives some (unintentionally?) ironic advice to Biggs that, to paraphrase, suggests he listen to the ‘wise words’ of those offering them and then ignore them completely. The distressing fact is that by this time Allen seems so convinced of his own wondrousness, refracted not through his part but Biggs, that you are left with two thoughts: either Allen is foolishly promoting his own ‘superb’ insights, or he’s realized that he is, actually, past it, and is encouraging you to go back to when he could actually play his own central figures and actually had some interesting things to say about relationships. Allen has played the same tune for thirty years now, and, looking at this film, for all its squarely photographed pseudo-chic New York settings, he’s still stuck in the 1970s.

But I’m ignoring the main point of this entry. It could be, perhaps, that I’m going a bit far in accusing this film of outright misogyny, because it never outrightly professes to hate women, simply that they are incomprehensible. It’s probable that, as one of the two conclusions above sees Allen’s foolishness, he doesn’t see that he’s being misogynistic. Perhaps the debacle with Mia Farrow has finally caught up with his pen (or typing fingers). But Anything Else seems to see women as one of two things, handily encapsulated into a familial pairing of mother and daughter: a woman is either a loose nutcase, or a pathetic nutcase. It’s almost shocking to see two such charismatic, dextrous performers as Christina Ricci and Stockard Channing playing these shrewish characters, delivering lines either so flatly they seem braindead or so wildly they look bug-eyed, but that’s what Allen has them do. The other couple of women that make appearances in the film- one an ex of Biggs in flashback, the other someone Ricci angles to set him up with- aren’t harridans like Ricci and Channing, but they’re so bland and unimportant that they’re most likely just harridans-in-waiting.

Reign Over Me, Mike Binder’s 2007 release, could be described slightly more kindly as chauvinistic, if only because women are so sidelined in the film as just to be there when either Don Cheadle or Adam Sandler need someone to show how wonderful they are, despite the fact that they’re played by the fairly respectable performers Liv Tyler, Jada Pinkett Smith and Saffrow Burrows. Unlike Anything Else, Reign Over Me at least shows some variety in its careless depiction of womenfolk- Tyler is a kindly but apparently useless shrink (mostly just a pretty face), Smith is Cheadle’s jigsaw-playing, party-pooper of a wife, while Burrows gets the worst of the lot as a psychotic patient of Cheadle’s (he’s a dentist) who wants to, um, service him for no apparent reason. Reign Over Me doesn’t hate these figures- Tyler especially seems to be a respectable source of help, even if she’s the shrink apparently encouraging Burrows’ pursuit of Cheadle, and the only time we see her with Sandler shows her as strikingly ineffectual- but it clearly believes the male figures are both more interesting and more valuable: Smith is a source of annoyance because she won’t let Cheadle go gallivanting with Sandler on his scooter at three in the morning?

Reign Over Me purports to be a film dealing with the personal aftermath of the war on terror- Sandler’s wife, children and dog were all killed on 9/11- but as it develops, it’s really just another film where Sandler can do his shtick, only protected from criticism by the veil of seriousness. It’s salvaged from disaster by Cheadle’s good work, managing his character’s wavering reactions to Sandler’s outbursts with earnest good-heartedness, and playing well off the rest of the cast. He anchors the movie in the realm of the real, balancing Binder’s sentimental and predictable impulses (such as flickers of Sandler’s memory visualised as his children running through the same hall he now looks down) against a sturdy characterization of a successful man trying to bridge the gap between his youth and his present. Even so, though, the film sways dangerously off course almost immediately, and by the time it’s dived headlong into a courtcase, I was already lost to the calls of Punch-Drunk Love and Spanglish.

Anything Else: F; Reign Over Me: C-